Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 13: Skeleton in the Cupboard

I could be wrong, but I get the distinct impression that the Adventurer DVD has the episodes arranged in order of production. If so that means we’re midway through the shooting of the series here, and boy, it really shows. Energy levels look to be running a little low, with Gene in particular showing signs of fatigue. As part of his contract he did take a holiday halfway through the making of the series, and it looks as if that holiday can’t come soon enough. His unnatural line delivery and pregnant pauses during the opening scene of this episode not only give the impression of a man reading off cue cards, but of someone who doesn’t have any idea what the words on the cue cards mean. “Well as master of…the college…I want you to do what is….best”.

Perhaps due to Gene’s tired state this Adventurer episode takes time out from the usual energetic globe-trotting antics, and instead sends him back to college to solve a mystery involving the evolution of man and some missing skulls. The main setting of this episode appears to be Cambridge University –at least going off the exterior footage- although characters seem to be doing their best to avoid mentioning the place by name. Heaven knows why Cambridge University wouldn’t want its name associated with such a high quality series like this.

Big hearted Gene is playing philanthropist to the college/university that mustn’t be named, writing out a large cheque in order for them to build a new, hi-tech college. In the context of the episode, this is meant to be a good thing, although the model of the proposed building does look as soulless and ugly as the “City 2000” Utopia that the father is working on in Beat Girl.

If you think the lingering close-up on that model indicates that its construction will form a key part of this episode, think again, as after that close-up the building is barely ever mentioned again (presumably the production just wanted to get their money’s worth out of that model). In fact the future of the building is placed in jeopardy when college professor John Ballard (Basil Dignam) embezzles £50,000 of the college’s money. Soon after, Ballard’s car is found flipped over with his apparent charred remains inside. Gene, who was the first on the scene of Ballard’s accident, is convinced there is more to the case than meets the eye though, especially since he spotted a second car speeding away from the fiery scene.

What begins as a seemingly traditional whodunit, soon spins out into the type of lunacy that you could only get from an episode of The Adventurer. It transpires that Professor Ballard was obsessed with the theory that ancient people from America migrated to Russia and from there populated the rest of Europe, meaning that modern day Russians and Europeans are all descended from American cavemen. The rejection and ridicule that Ballard faced as a result of this theory not only drove him to a nervous breakdown but made him fair game for Carl Gardner (Lance Percival) a slippery antiques dealer. Having convinced the unstable Ballard that he owns the skull of an ancient American that could prove Ballard’s theory, Gardner insists on Ballard raiding the college’s piggybank for the tune of £50,000. However Ballard was so ashamed of his actions that he decided to fake his own death by hiring Bill Marks (Roy Kinnear) a stuntman turned scrap merchant dealer to crash his car and place an old skeleton from the college in the driver’s seat.

It is asking a bit to accept that the police would be easily tricked into thinking that an ancient skinless skeleton was the corpse of a recently deceased car crash victim. This though is just one of a series of mighty big asks that this Adventurer episode requires its audience to buy into. Another, far funnier one, being that a character played by Roy Kinnear could ever have worked as a stunt double for Gene. Roy Kinnear and Gene being noted for their strikingly similar appearance, go on admit it how many times have you watched Roy Kinnear in a film and thought you were watching Gene…they could almost have been twins.

While Roy Kinnear is strictly here as comic relief (his role feeling like a rehearsal for his Man About the House/George and Mildred character) this episode does offer a rare opportunity to see fellow comedy actor Lance Percival in a serious role. While it is not Lance Percival’s only foray outside of comedy, he later impressed as a deadbeat journalist in an episode of ‘Target’, it is certainly an unexpected piece of against type casting. One that isn’t without its rewards, Percival is fine as a slimy, cowardly con-man out to exploit the poor, unbalanced professor. The main problem with the casting of Roy Kinnear and Lance Percival is that they are such lovable figures, which the audience has an automatic affection for. So, rather than cheering Gene on as he punches Lance Percival in the face or ‘roughs up’ Roy Kinnear in his junkyard, it tends to turn you against Gene as he brutalises this pair of much loved comedy actors. Imagine how you’d feel about Regan and Carter had they spent the episode of The Sweeney that Morecambe and Wise guest starred in, by repeatedly punching Eric Morecambe in the face and throwing Ernie Wise around a junkyard.

Stuart Damon in the background, still waiting for his cue

Revisiting Skeleton in the Cupboard makes me even more curious to see how this episode plays out within the context of the Adventurer movie “La Doppia Faccia Della Legge”. Out of all the 650 minutes and 26 episodes of The Adventurer, this does feel like an odd choice for inclusion into a compilation movie. It goes without saying that this episode doesn’t exactly showcase its star at his best and with its talky, complicated plot this is hardly the most exciting Adventurer episode going. Worse still, the Cambridge University settings seem to have forced Gene into dressing more conservatively than usual, with his dress sense only displaying its flare for the outrageous in scenes that take place outside of Cambridge University. New additions to Gene apparel here include a pair of black gloves (‘cause they made Tony Curtis look cool when he wore them in The Persuaders, so why not Gene) and tartan trousers that not even the excessive amount of day for night shooting in this episode can disguise. The tartan trousers become something of a fixture in later Adventurer episodes, to the degree that I did wonder if Gene might have had Scottish roots, and that the trousers were some kind of homage to his Scottish ancestry. A bit of online research into Gene however indicates that his grandparents were Russian immigrants, so he doesn’t even have the Scottish ancestry excuse for wearing them.

Notice how over time I’ve come to confuse the fictional Gene Bradley with the real life Gene Barry? In fairness they do have the same first name. Both are movie stars and –well- one of the side-effects of watching Adventurer episodes week in, week out is the gradual inability to distinguish fantasy from reality any more. Like ‘Nearly the End of the Picture’ before it, this is another Adventurer episode targeted at the American tourist mentality, displaying an infatuation with the British establishment, coupled with a wish-fulfilment plot which insists that the right amount of charm and money can buy you acceptance into it. In Gene’s case a mixture of his philanthropy and ridding the college of Gardner’s skulduggery sees him rewarded by the master of the college, who informs Gene that the college bigwigs have elected to make Gene into an honorary chair of the college. Which seems a bit harsh, okay Gene’s acting has been a bit wooden in his episode, and his tanned skin is a shade mahogany, but that’s no reason for wanting to turn him into a piece of furniture...is it?


Friday, 25 May 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 12: Deadlock

After episodes centered around Gene being God’s gift to women and Gene being a master of disguise, here for a change we get an episode highlighting the fact that Gene isn’t short of a bob or two. Money in fact is a powerful weapon in this Adventurer outing, quite literally as Gene beats up an adversary with a briefcase containing a million dollars at one point. Up until this point the fact that Gene is one of the super rich hasn’t really been touched upon much in The Adventurer, but this episode serves to remind us that these are, as the French DVD release of the series bills it “les enquetes d’un jet setteur multimillionaire”.

Playing millionaires with ethical backbones who lead secret double lives as action heroes appears to have been something of a calling for Gene, this aspect of The Adventurer harking back to the Amos Burke character of Burke’s Law and Amos Burke-Secret Agent. I suppose in that sense Gene Bradley could also be considered an older, grumpier version of Tony Curtis’ character in The Persuaders. These days of course it might be a little difficult to wholeheartedly buy into the idea of American multi-millionaires with their own private jets and egos to match being heroic good guys, Donald Trump having rather brought that type into disrepute in recent years, undoing much of Gene and Tony Curtis’ hard work. Damn!!

Deadlock feels suspiciously like something of a reboot of the series. One that simplistically portrays Gene as a successful businessman, with the additional baggage of him also being a famous movie star and secret agent never alluded to. Gone too are the regular supporting characters...no male assistants...no Diane/Diana Marsh...no Brandon the Butler...not even Mr Parminter can be bothered showing up this week, despite Barry Morse still being billed in the opening credits. In their place is Franz Kolmar (Mervyn Johns), Gene’s business mentor who helped make Gene the rich dude he is today. Mainly it seems by convincing Youngman Bradley to invest his money in adding machines “I remember trying hard to get you to call it a computer”. A trip down memory lane that has Gene casting his mind back to when he was young, carefree and only had a mere 25 thousand dollars to his name that he could have easily blown in Las Vegas had it not been for Kolmar. “I was young, I had no responsibility” Gene reminisces, although what with him now having millions and seemingly a different love interest every week, Gene hardly strikes you as a man bogged down by responsibility these days either. Kolmar however has found himself in hot water after another protégé of his, Johnny Morrison, has run off with a microfilm containing details of the biggest thing to come along in the world of business since the adding machine, and now Johnny wants a few million from Gene for the microfilm’s return.

If I was to tell you that Burt Kwouk was in this episode, and that the two main villains in it are called Johnny Morrsion and Sakuma, then how many of you would jump to the assumption that Kwouk would be playing Sakuma? However, don’t forget that this is The Adventurer we’re dealing with here, so of course Kwouk is playing Johnny Morrison. I don’t know whether the motive was subversive or mischievous, but this episode does have a thing about allocating Western sounding names to characters played by Asians and Oriental sounding names to roles played by occidental actors. Whatever the reason, this quirk did at least give Kwouk a break from playing characters with names like Kato, Mr Hong, Dr Chan, Mr Chang, Mr Yueung, Mr Han, Mr Kwang, Uncle Tai, Mr Ying, Mr Chung, Uncle Lau, Mr Chen, Mr Lee, Mr Ho, Mr Wok, etc etc.

In a series that isn’t renowned for its memorable villains, Johnny Morrison may well be the exception to the rule. The character even comes complete with his own (then) hi-tech gimmick of only appearing to Gene via CCTV recordings that are being beamed to Gene’s TV set. Having finally stumbled on an adversary worthy of Gene, The Adventurer then makes the characteristically bafflingly decision to kill off Johnny before even the halfway point of this episode... and in an uninteresting and off-screen fashion to boot. Its a decision you suspect the makers of the series may have quickly regretted, since Kwouk turns up again later in the series, playing a completely different character. Something the series’ makers must have hoped you wouldn’t pick up on...and let’s face it it’s not as if Kwouk was a prolific actor, highly recognizable from a massively popular movie franchise or anything like that.

In fairness, the building up of Morrison as a Bond type villain and his abrupt demise does feel like a calculated shock, and a deliberate attempt to go against audience expectations. So too does the revelation that Morrison, far from the supervillain, was actually a reluctant party in the plan to shake down Kolmar. The real brains behind that scheme being Kay Masterson (Jennie Linden) who initially presents herself to Gene as little more than Morrison’s assistant. Once that cat is out of the bag Deadlock becomes something of a retread of the themes of ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’, with the emphasis being on Gene’s relationship with a woman who is initially hostile to him, before realising (but of course) that she got it all wrong about Gene. In Kay Masterson’s case, she has Gene down as yet another ruthless, greedy capitalist who is receiving a taste of his own medicine by being shaken down for a few million. “Why shouldn’t we get a taste of what you lot take for granted” being the gist of her argument. What with his character once again being under scrutiny, it is up to Gene to counteract her cynicism by showing her that he got where he is on account of friendship and ethics, rather than backstabbing and walking over the little guy. The episode’s message being that rich people are just like the rest of us, aside from owning their own private jets and leading double lives as crime fighters.

The turning point in the Gene/Kay relationship comes when the luckless Kolmar gets himself kidnapped and Gene happily gives away a million dollars for his release to Kolmar’s captor Sakuma, a character who for all the world sounds like he should be Japanese but is played by the unmistakably occidental Wolfe Morris (a typo in The Adventurer DVD booklet rechristens this character ‘Satsuma’ indicating that the character might actually be part Japanese, part citrus fruit). Seeing that Gene really does value friendship over money, Kay does an about turn and joins the Gene fan club, helping him thwart Sakuma/Satsuma. Further plot complications arise however when it is discovered that Morrison hid the microfilm at a bank’s safe deposit box. Now the bank in question, the sinister named ‘Dobermann bank’ has its crooked eye on keeping hold of the microfilm...a turn of events that calls on Gene’s business skills to save the day.

A charming performance from the highly likeable Jennie Linden is about the only saving grace of this fairly forgettable instalment, which is otherwise only notable for the amount of time Gene spends handcuffed to a briefcase containing a million dollars. An accessory that this episode appears to be on a mission to establish as a character trademark. Had the Adventurer been a) made in the 1980s and b) popular, I’m in little doubt that the inevitable Gene Bradley action figure would have come complete with its own attachable briefcase designed to whack the other action figures in the toy line with. Although I’m sure Gene would have insisted that the Stuart Damon action figure would have to be fitted with its own slouching mechanism and that the Catherine Schell toy have detachable shoes to make her appear shorter.

Ironically given Deadlock’s emphasis on wealth, this is an extremely cheap looking episode, with sets recycled from previous episodes and an air of indifference about the whole affair. “My daddy always told me it takes to...too a friendship” claims Gene at one point, suggesting that Gene Sr. was either a pretty rubbish philosopher, or that Gene had flubbed the line and no one could be bothered going for a second take. Supposedly set in Istanbul, Deadlock relies on a whole chunk of stock footage to sell its Turkish location. Some of which fits in with what is happening onscreen, but at other times approaches a Bruno Mattei level of randomness, such as the inclusion of footage of a pelican strolling about. ITC sure seemed determined to use every scrap of Turkish stock footage they could get their hands on. It says allot about the quality of this episode that its highlight is stock footage of an Istanbul cinema premiering the latest Bond movie in an impressively grand style, with multi-coloured ‘007’ signing on the cinema’s marquee. The fact that this footage is cut into a scene in which Gene makes an absolute hash of jumping from one apartment balcony to another has the malicious effect of reminding us that “somebody does it better, makes you feel sad for Gene”.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 11: Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly

Those mischievous makers of The Adventurer are at it again, pulling the same trick they did in Episode One by beginning with an action packed scene, only to then reveal it to be just part of a movie that Gene is shooting. The filming of the latest Gene Bradley epic ‘Countdown’ isn’t going so smoothly due to Gene’s scatter-brained female co-star who accidentally hits him with a fake chair during an action scene. “Honey, you’re supposed to hit him with the chair not me”. Take two goes no better when she very nearly hits Gene with a real chair this time. Gene and the film’s director however take it all in their stride, the director calls her ‘doll face’ and Gene kisses her on the forehead then knowingly refers to her as the director’s ‘protégé’.

Can you imagine though if an actress had actually hit Gene with a chair during the making of The Adventurer? For one I can’t imagine it would have been by accident, and my suspicions are that he wouldn’t have been quite as forgiving about it in real life. In fact according to an actress who had a small role in another Adventurer episode Gene wouldn’t even speak to her on the set, as extras and minor actors weren’t ‘important’ enough for the great Gene to engage in conversation.

Lessons we therefore can learn from Gene’s onscreen and offscreen behaviour then are that women are good for calling ‘doll face’ and kissing on the forehead but don’t let those dames near anything ‘manly’ like action scenes, otherwise they’ll pose a danger to themselves and others. We can also learn that minor actresses aren’t worth talking to, and if they have larger roles in movies its likely due to them putting out to film directors.

Having sufficiently offended every actress working at the time, this episode then gets down to the business of the missing ‘Kelly’ of the title. Namely, Mike Kelly (Rio Fanning) a pal of Gene’s who has failed to keep an appointment with him whilst Gene is shooting his latest movie in Switzerland. Further attempts to get in touch with Kelly come to nothing and Gene is so concerned that he decides to take a break from making the movie and wanders off to Geneva to find Kelly. A turn of events that surprisingly doesn’t appear to bother the director of the movie, who is suddenly without his lead actor. Then again I suppose he can always pass the time by hitting up his ‘protégé’ for further sexual favours, so that might explain his rather blasé attitude to this situation.

Gene is rather jet-lagged and confused looking in this episode. At one point he spills some ice all over a drink’s cabinet, while in another scene he accidentally kicks over a bucket and then picks up two telephone receivers at the same time, despite the fact that neither phone is actually ringing. Admittedly some of this- such as the bucket scene- looks scripted, but at other times it just feels like director Val Guest was playing Dr ‘Frankenstein’ Logan to Gene’s Bub and letting him play around with all these props to see how he would respond to them.

“Say hello to your Aunt Alicia”

While Gene isn’t at the top of his game here, the supporting cast are your typical Val Guest ensemble of veteran actors playing comedy bit parts (Norman Chappell, Eric Pohlmann), young actors getting some screen exposure as villains (Sandor Eles, Christopher Sandford) and of course it wouldn’t be a Val Guest episode without some female glamour to hand. This week’s ‘guest totty’ being Anouska Hempel, playing a mystery woman who has taken up residence in Mike Kelly’s apartment yet claims to have never heard of the man. On a roll this week when it comes to patronising women, Gene insists on slowly spelling out his friend’s name to her “K-E-double L-Y” because y’know women sometimes have difficulty understanding long, complicated words like ‘Kelly’. Gene soon redeems himself though by throwing together a cocktail in her honour. The name of this concoction being ‘The Wet Lady’, which sounds for all the world like a John Lindsay loop, but is so named because she’d just gotten out of the shower when she answered the door to him.

Anouska Hempel was one of three people whose appearance in The Adventurer was preceded by a role in the 1972 movie industry comedy ‘Go for a Take’ (the others being Dennis Price and Debbie Russ). Having gone from playing Norman Rossington’s love interest in Go for a Take to playing Gene’s love interest here, I think it is fair to say that Anouska’s career was definitely on the up. Go For A Take’s portrayal of the British film industry as this tiny hub of activity, with movies being shot side by side, overworked extras being frogmarched from set to set and actors constantly running into each other at movie studios doesn’t feel too detached from reality when you consider that The Adventurer shares three cast members with Go For A Take, at least four cast members and a director with Au Pair Girls, and that soon after appearing in this episode Anouska and Eric Pohlmann would –for their sins- be reunited on screen in Tiffany Jones. The British film industry of 1972 sure looks to have been an extremely small world indeed, and Catherine Schell’s uber-masculine stunt double in episode one of The Adventurer sure validates Go For A Take’s belief that even men who looked like Norman Rossington and Reg Varney could still find work in the industry as stunt doubles for women.

I’m unsure of how tall Anouska Hempel actual is, but I’m guessing not very much, considering that Gene towers over here, even when she is wearing really large shoes. More problematic though was 5’10’’ Sandor Eles, who joins the ever growing ranks of actors who were prevented from standing up when they were sharing the screen with Gene. Which is a little unfortunate considering that Eles plays the main villain of this episode, Gerard Laroche. An arms dealer, Laroche is blackmailing Kelly into piloting a plane to some politically unstable African republic, and is doing his best to prevent Gene from learning about this excursion to Africa. Since Eles, like John Savident before him, is prevented from any physical confrontations with Gene due to his height, the ‘hands on’ villainary is mainly deputised to Christopher Sandford who pursues Gene via helicopter. For some reason this series is quite hung-up on characters using helicopters. Granted, not as much as Chevrolet cars, but enough to make you query whether ITC might have been taking backhanders from a helicopter company in return for all this onscreen promotion, if not they sure missed a trick there.

The manner in which Christopher Sandford gets his ass handed to him by Gene is undoubtedly this episode’s highlight. Gene stops his car in a tunnel, forcing Sandford out of the helicopter and into the tunnel. There Gene hides under the car, then when Sandford is nearby Gene grabs one of his legs which seems to cause Sandford’s entire body to go into a tailspin. At which point Gene charges into Sandford’s midsection like an enraged bull, after which its curtains for Sandford!!

‘Has Anyone Here Seen Kelly’ might well be the booziest episode of The Adventurer on record. Anouska Hempel’s hotel room comes complete with a bar so extensive that even Brandon the Butler would have difficulty finishing it off. Whilst a reunion between Gene and his old Italian drinking buddy Luigi (Eric Pohlmann) feels like an excuse for the two characters to refer to every alcoholic beverage they can think of, with lager, whisky, scorpion cocktails and vodka all receiving name checks. Perhaps the question Gene should be asking is “Has anyone here seen sobriety”. While an unkind soul might suggest that just about every episode of The Adventurer could drive a person to drink, anyone with drinking problems would be wise to skip this particular Gene Bradley outing. What with all the drinks and references to drinking in it, it would be sure to drive them back to the bottle, or at the very least result in them rushing off to mix themselves a ‘Wet Lady’.

Wet Ladies seem to be the last thing on Gene’s mind at the end of this episode though, which sees him skip a booze-up with Luigi and a reunion with Anouska Hempel in favour of cold calling Mr Parminter in the middle of the night and indulging in what could easily be misinterpreted as dirty talk. “Oh Parminter, freshen your whiskers will you, I can’t stand it when you’re messy”. The mental images evoked by that line may well be the worst thing Val Guest ever inflicted on the British public outside of The Boys in Blue.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 10: Nearly the End of the Picture

Nearly the end of the picture? Well not exactly, in fact we’re not even at the mid-way point of The Adventurer yet, although we are down a couple of cast members for this episode. It’s always apparent when Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon are absent from the show, as a shot of helicopter blades in the opening credits, meant to carry their ‘co-starring’ credit, instead plays out with no text whatsoever. Something which sticks out like a sore thumb since the otherwise fast and action packed opening titles (Gene throws a rope…Gene runs through a door…Gene rubs a woman’s head…Gene shouts down a phone…Gene punches the camera) now linger for a long while over those helicopter blades. No doubt baffling the average viewer, unaware that the shot of the helicopter blades goes on so long because it was meant to give us time to read the names of Gene’s co-stars.

Who then could fill the void temporary left by Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon, who could combine Catherine’s glamour and sex appeal as well as Garrick’s youthful agility? Well it seems the answer is a 57 year old Dennis Price, who here makes his Adventurer debut as ‘Brandon the Butler’. Visibly bad on his feet and giving the impression of being permanently drunk as a skunk, quite how Brandon managed to work his way into Gene’s employment is anyone’s guess. In some ways Brandon is the polar opposite of Mr Parminter, the anti-Parminter if you will. Whilst Parminter clearly worships the ground Gene walks on and in all likelihood sleeps with a picture of Gene above his bed, Brandon probably throws darts into pictures of Gene when Gene isn’t around. The impression you get is that Brandon regards Gene as a gullible rich American, who’ll shell out a fortune in return for Brandon showing him how to tie his tie the correct way and make the odd cup of tea. Brandon’s barely concealed contempt for Gene, and sense of superiority to him is hilarious in its transparency. At times it feels like Price is channelling his drunk, bitchy old queen character from Horror Hospital. Needless to say, Price is a wonderful addition to the whole dysfunctional Adventurer family.

Brandon does undoubtedly bring something new to the Adventurer team, alcoholism. In fact Brandon only tends to come alive when copious amounts of alcohol are around, the moment Gene is out of the door Brandon is sneaking around and helping himself to the drinks cabinet. As Adventurer episodes never give new characters much by way of an introduction, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Gene’s rude, drunk butler is this week’s guest villain, rather than one of the good guys. Brandon’s primary purpose in the series is to play out a ‘Pygmalion’ scenario with Brandon tutoring Gene in how to correctly behave in British high society. Given the Pygmalion influence maybe this episode would have been more appropriately titled ‘My Fair Bradley’.

Sadly Gene’s attempt to blend in with the toffs falls at the first hurdle, when a date with the extravagantly named Clarissa De Vere Allan (Angela Scoular) leads to him being abducted. It seems Clarissa and her posh friends have stolen a Rembrandt painting that art lover Gene had loaned out to the National Gallery, and now want £100,000 from Gene in three days, otherwise the Rembrandt will be destroyed with acid. Clarissa’s accomplices include Alden (Mark Jones) while the gang’s ringleader is Martin (David Buck) who disguises himself with a masquerade ball mask during his meeting with Gene. As Martin’s collaborators aren’t shy about revealing their actual identities to Gene it remains a mystery why Martin isn’t as forthcoming. Usually when a character goes to that length to conceal their identity in movies and TV shows it generally means they are known to the people they are trying to blackmail, or at least have met them casually elsewhere in the episode. Since the Adventurer likes to give two fingers to conventions though, it turns out there is no reason whatsoever why Martin dons a masquerade ball mask in Gene’s company…so maybe he just likes masks…or is shy…or a bit kinky….Good god, now this show has started giving me flashbacks to Derek Ford’s The Wife Swappers…even without Larry Taylor being in it!!

After being mickey finned, Gene wakes up by the London docklands, stumbles back home and is next seen nursing a hangover whilst wearing dark glasses and a red and white polka dot dressing down. Yes, you read that correctly a red and white polka dot dressing down. Not even all the madness Dennis Price was exposed to during the making of Jess Franco’s The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein could have prepared him for a sight like that. No wonder Brandon needs those drinks.

Gene’s faith in the British upper classes is restored when it transpires that the ‘blonde dizzy’ Clarissa De Vere Allan who abducted him, isn’t the real Clarissa De Vere Allan, who according to Parminter is “about 5’7’’, blue eyes, light brown hair”. Incredibly, despite being forewarned that the real Clarissa is a frighteningly tall 5’7’’, Gene still wants to meet her.

Clarissa De Vere Allan the 2nd, truly lives up to her name, you can tell this Clarissa really is posh because she drinks lemon barley water, likes to practice archery, says ‘frightfully’ allot and has friends with names like ‘Bunty’. Most crucially of all is played by Fiona Lewis, and let’s face it no one epitomises the posh 1970s ‘it girl’ quite like Fiona Lewis. I don’t know what power Fiona Lewis had over Gene, but for a tall girl she does get away with quite allot in this episode. The fact that he even allowed her to stand up in the scenes they have together is in itself remarkable, but it is even more astonishing to spot her wearing high heel shoes in their scenes together. Poor Catherine Schell would never have gotten away with footwear like that in Gene’s company. Maybe Gene was just a sucker for a posh English accent.

Thanks to the frightfully nice Clarissa, the frightfully tall Gene manages to discover that the frightfully nasty imposter Clarissa is actually a humble DJ at a frightfully trendy discotheque. An occupation that simultaneously allows Gene to spy on the fake Clarissa while romancing the real deal. So there are lights, music and women to impress and that can mean only one thing…yes…it’s the return of GENE, GENE THE DANCING MACHINE.

Apparently Fiona Lewis doesn’t rate her acting too highly these days (recently claiming that “my enthusiasm outflanked my ability” and crediting her success being “due to the fact that I was willing to take off my clothes”) but I’m sorry any woman who can keep a straight face while Gene does ‘the marionette’ in front of her is a damn fine actress in my book. It is even more impressive if you consider that off-screen Fiona really did party hard with the era’s genuine hell raisers like Oliver Reed and George Best, after which Gene’s partying antics must have felt lacking in authenticity.

If the Adventurer is truly blessed in any department, it has to be in the acting one. The series really is a who’s who of the British acting world of 1972, keeping many industry veterans in employment, as well as introducing us to young, fresh faces with careers that were going places. In this episode alone we get a relativity early performance from Mark Jones, star of stage, screen and British sex comedies. So early in fact that you get a rare chance to see Mark Jones’ actual hair here, shortly before he adopted the Sean Connery approach of alternating between playing roles bald or donning a toupee, depending on what was required of him. Talking Pictures TV’s recent repeats of ‘A Family At War’ really drive home what a fine actor Mark Jones was, and even when the material wasn’t worthy of him- such as in this Adventurer episode or the sex comedies- you can still tell he was an actor who always gave 100%.

Overall though, I think The Adventurer was a better platform for actresses rather than actors. Male Adventurer villains are never particularly memorable or charismatic. There are no Goldfingers or Blofelds in this world, and in all likelihood the series was deliberately written that way so that no actor could upstage Gene. Actresses on the other hand tend to get more of an opportunity to shine, either by playing glamorous roles that come across as bids for future consideration as a Bond girl, or quirky character parts as in the case of Angela Scoular in this episode. Given that Scoular was mainly regarded as a comedy actress it is a little bit of a surprise to see her in an episode of The Adventurer. While the ‘ditzy blonde’ side to her character isn’t too far removed from her comedy roots, the malicious edge that lies beneath her characters’ apparently airheaded exterior means this is the type of role you tend to more associate with the likes of Linda Hayden or Vanessa ‘Girly’ Howard. This episode does carry with it the faintly depressing reminder that The Adventurer is such a product of the past that even some of its youthful cast members have since passed away, and in horrendously tragic circumstances in the case of Angela Scoular.

A peculiar aspect to this episode is how it feels less like the result of a British crew filming on home-grown soil, and more like a special ‘British’ episode of an American TV series. Along the lines of the British set episodes of Hart to Hart, Magnum PI or Still Crazy like a Fox. Everything about this episode feels catered to American tourists, with the British pomp and circumstance cranked up to a deafening degree. Something which plays well to the American tourist mentality but tends to evoke sniggers from a British audience, who know full well that your average Brit doesn’t have their own butler nor puts on a top hat in order to go out on the town (I defy you to watch the scene with Gene in top hat and tails without hearing ‘Putting on the Ritz’ playing in your head).

As this episode juggles the responsibilities of being an episode of an action series and a ‘things to do in London’ tourist information advert, Gene and Parminter do have an unusually active social life in this episode. Gene goes on a walking tour of the London docklands, he and Parminter spend time at a traditional English pub (presumably because Brandon has drank him out of house and home) and later dine out at the BT Tower, back when it had its own revolving restaurant. Don’t go expecting to experience any of that these days, time was called on that revolving restaurant in 1981 and those docklands have gone the way of top hat and tails. As a glorified advert for a London that no longer exists, such details do lend this episode an undoubted amount of time capsule importance.

All in all, Nearly the End of the Picture is a rather schizophrenic episode, both playing to the American tourist notion of ‘Britishness’ and tapping into the frightmares of rich Americans that once over here they’ll be exploited and blackmailed by Brits who aren’t as nice or polite as they seem. Valuable life lessons that your average American could learn from Gene in this episode then, include the knowledge that the correct way to address a young lady in 1972’s Britain was as ‘blonde bird’ or ‘luv’ and that proper, well-educated young ladies will always crowbar the word ‘frightfully’ into every other sentence. If she doesn’t then chances are she is just some common scrubber who is only after you for your Rembrandts. An entire drinking game could be played around how many times Fiona Lewis uses the word ‘frightfully’ in this Adventurer episode. Down something stronger than lemon barley water every time Fiona says the magic word, and chances are by the episode’s end you’ll be as blotto as Brandon.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Adventurer (1972) episode 9: Love Always, Magda

Larry Taylor was an actor who appeared in over 130 films and TV shows…he was in several Carry On films, Zulu, Psychomania…just about every British TV series you could name, and acted in so many quota quickies that barely a week goes by these days without his face showing up on Talking Pictures TV. Taylor also had a tendency to pop up where you least expected, appearing fleetingly in Tobe Hooper’s The Mangler and enjoying a surprisingly prominent role in the Cannon produced sword and sorcery epics ‘Gor’ and ‘The Outlaw of Gor’. To me though Larry Taylor will forever be ‘Leonard’ from Derek Ford’s The Wife Swappers…as a result I am incapable of watching him in anything else without being plagued by flashbacks of him playing the oldest swinger in town. Leonard’s slightly obscene, gap toothed smile, his blindingly bright cravat and shirt…the exposed tuff of white chest hair…the unforgettable scene in which Leonard helps to break the ice with his swinging buddy’s wife by following her into the kitchen and literally helping her to break some ice…all these things haunt me whenever L. Taylor is onscreen. Including his stint in this episode of The Adventurer. Come to think about it, multiple Leonard flashbacks actually proved a welcome distraction from what is a rather routine, by the numbers Adventurer episode.

Gene is excelling at yet another sport, this time it’s the turn of cricket, which Gene is practicing in his living room. Why? Well Gene is ‘wacky’ like that and loves to shake things up around stuffy Brits. An urgent telegram though causes him to call time on rehearsals for the Lord’s Taverners, and pilot his own personal jet ’88 Delta’ to Beirut. What else could distract Gene from the chance of winning yet another sporting cup, and cause him to fuel up 88 Delta than of course a woman. Not just any woman though, but the elusive Magda (Cyd Hayman), Gene’s ‘one that got away’ who four years earlier broke off their relationship and seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving him with only memories and a watch inscribed ‘To Gene, love always Magda’. Now however she has been sighted in Beirut by Gene’s good buddy Don Fleming (Paul Maxwell). Gene seems rather excited by the prospect of a reunion with Magda and has barely unpacked his bags before he is popping a champagne cork in her honour (yes…that old bit of sexual symbolism).

It seems though that Gene has popped his cork prematurely, as after Don’s initial sighting of her Magda has once again gone to ground and Don is suspiciously determined to get Gene to return home. A turn of events that sees Gene go from horny to grumpy to angry within the space of a few seconds. “That cable made it sound like she really did want to see me” Gene shouts at Don. Cool it, Gene Baby! There is of course more to the situation than meets the eye. As tends to be the case with Gene’s exs, Magda has fallen in with a rich, powerful criminal with links to a crime syndicate, and the man in question Nessim (Kieron Moore) has put the frighteners on Don, hence Don’s lack of enthusiasm for finding Magda again.

Gene sure is fond of Adventurer storylines that involve him re-entering the lives of former flames and driving their current beaus crazy with jealously. This is of course identical to what he did in last week’s Othello knock-off episode, as well as a throwback to the very first Adventurer episode. While Gene never appears to tire of playing out this scenario, it is hard to avoid the sense of déjà vu creeping into the series.

As Catherine Schell and Garrick Hagon are entirely absent from this episode, and Mr Parminter appears only briefly, this episode is tasked with writing in a few all new supporting characters. Following in the footsteps of Brett from last week’s episode, Don Fleming seems to be an attempt to establish the Adventurer equivalent of a Felix Leiter character. Don being an ex-CIA man turned private eye who has trod a similar path in life to Gene, and comes across as an equal to him rather than just another fresh faced male assistant. Magda herself is an initially intriguing character who goes against expectations that she’ll turn out to be a Bond girl type or a femme fatale. Serious and at times bordering on aloof, her independence seems to motivate men even more into trying to own and possess her. Alas, once the ‘romantic’ subplot starts to kick in, Magda becomes rather pathetic and needy, as the character’s increasing purpose becomes to complement Gene. Unsurprisingly Magda’s motivation for severing ties with Gene turns out to flatter rather than crush his ego. She felt guilty for making the first move and ‘causing’ him to fall in love with her, even though she felt she wasn’t worthy of him “you deserve someone better than me”. The funniest line of the episode occurs when Magda tells Gene that Nessim “was nearly as rich and charming as you”, the all important part of that line being NEARLY. To complicate matters (and we all know how Adventurer episodes love to do that) Magda is also an undercover spy who after romancing Nessim was recruited by Mr Parminter to infiltrate Nessim’s criminal organisation.

Love makes people do funny things, and love is definitely in the air in this Adventurer episode. Nessim loves Magda, Magda loves Gene, and Gene also loves Gene as well. Even taking this into account though, people behave exceptionally dumb in this episode. Magda jumps at the first opportunity to meet Gene, thereby compromising her undercover work. Gene continentally ignores Don’s pleas to leave town and gets Don drunk instead. Causing Don to miss his flight home and resulting in his demise when Nessim sends Leonard from The Wife Swappers round to shoot Don to death in the shower. Of course, all this could have been avoided had Parminter simply informed Gene that Magda was working for him as an undercover agent, thereby clearing up the mystery of what she was doing in Beirut. Although admittedly if Parminter had done that then this episode would have just been 25 minutes worth of Gene practicing cricket in his front room.

In contrast, the bad guys of this episode are ultra-efficient and seemingly blessed with second sight ability when it comes to detecting trouble. No sooner has Gene stepped off the plane than they have a man on his trail. They also just happen to have an undercover man on standby at the hotel Gene and Don are staying at, allowing them to bug Don’s room, which then allows them to become wise to Gene’s meeting with Magda. On a roll they also bug Gene’s room, resulting in Magda’s feelings for Gene and her undercover status to become known to Nessim. How good manages to triumph over evil in this episode is beyond me!!

Maybe it was impractical to do so, or maybe the purse strings were tightening on the show’s budget at this point, but ‘Love Always, Magda’ is the first of the series not to have been filmed on location. While every episode up until now had made the most of its location, the over reliance on stock footage here makes this episode look cheaper and more set bound than anything that has come before. The hellishly hot locations evoked by the stock footage often feels at odds with Gene’s dress sense in the episode, with a preference for yellow shirts and brown leather jackets and pants giving Gene a look here that could be best described as “the funky canary”. Realistically you’d be sweating buckets wearing leather gear like that on the streets on Beirut, just as well then that he didn’t really venture outside of Elstree for this one.

This episode’s setting however must have been a godsend to every actor or belly dancer who could convincingly pass as ‘Arabic’ after a quick touch up in a tanning salon. Of the actors playing Arab henchmen in this episode, David Cargill who plays Nessim’s undercover man at the hotel hailed from Canada, and another of Nessim’s henchmen Stefan Kalipha was from Trinidad. Whilst Leonard from The Wife Swappers alias Larry Taylor, managed to chalk up numerous appearances as Arab and Mexican thugs in his career, despite actually being from Peterborough. This Adventurer episode also comes complete with its own unsolved mystery thanks to another of Gene’s ‘exotic’ co-stars, the mono named ‘Kerima’, who briefly plays a belly dancer in this episode. An appearance notable for the early example of photo-bombing she does in her brief screen time with Gene.

According to several online sources this was the final screen appearance of 1950s screen sensation Kerima nee Miriam Charriere, famous in her day for appearing on the cover of Life magazine and several major movies including Carol Reed’s Outcast of the Islands and the Hollywood epic Land of the Pharaohs. Whilst I’m happy to be proved wrong, I’m not too convinced that the Kerima in the Adventurer really is the same Kerima who was famous in the 1950s. Would an actress world famous in her day, and off-screen since 1962 really be lured back to acting a decade later by a small, insignificant belly dancing bit part in The Adventurer. It feels unlikely, also taking into account that the 1950s Kerima would have been 47 by 1972, and unless she has spent the years in-between bathing in the blood of virgins, The Adventurer Kerima sure looks allot younger than that. Could the popularity of Kerima in the 1950s have merely led to that name entering into the popular lexicon and have resulted in imitators taking up that moniker? To complicate matters further the Kerima who appears in The Adventurer is definitely not the same Kerima who appeared nude in the 1972 British sex comedy ‘The Love Box’ nor is she the belly dancer of the same name whose act was showcased on the 1980s US public access television show ‘Beyond Vaudeville’. Meaning that they may have been at least four different Kerimas, three with overlapping careers!!! It’s almost as complicated as your Adventurer episode.

Sadly ‘Love Always, Magda’ goes out with a whimper, or rather a minor skirmish that sees Magda shoot Leonard from The Wife Swappers in the arm before fleeing, leaving Gene to turn Nessim over to the authorities. So, unusually Gene doesn’t get the girl this week, but he does get to play some cricket at the end…and he does get to keep the watch she gave him…and he did get to meet Leonard from The Wife Swappers…so as they say ….what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts.